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$1.5 million Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation Grant to Benefit UM, MCPS Education Programs

MISSOULA, Mont. – The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative, a partnership between the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Montana, and Missoula County Public Schools, has been reinvigorated with an additional three-year, $1.5 million grant, MCPS Superintendent Mark Thane announced Tuesday.

The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative is a continuation of Schools and Higher Education Advancing Public Education across the P-20 Spectrum (SHAPE P-20 and SHAPE 2.0), a set of initiatives begun in 2013 aimed at creating a modern learning environment by transforming the relationship among universities, teachers and student experiences from preschool to the doctoral level to ensure students graduate from high school with strong critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and teamwork skills.

The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative refines the original initiatives from SHAPE P-20 and SHAPE 2.0 to focus on programs that incorporate cross-cultural studies and an understanding of global issues, STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math, plus arts integration), early intervention for at-risk toddlers and preschoolers, universal design for learning environments and strategies that are flexible for students’ needs, pioneering digital education and professional learning communities that allow teachers to investigate and improve teaching practices. These programs place the focus on learning, empowering students and staff to create a globally competitive learning environment in every MCPS school.

“The partnership opened the door to the vast array of expertise and academic resources available at UM,” Thane said. “When we collaborated with UM for SHAPE P-20, we realized the incredible impact we could have together in building an educational environment focused around helping every student succeed.”

The 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative continues the focus on the most important component of any classroom: the teacher. UM's role as a regionally and nationally recognized training ground for teachers means research and cutting-edge techniques are available to educators locally, without having to invest in costly out-of-state training.

“The original SHAPE grants delivered on many levels: increasing high school retention and graduation rates, developing family and community investment and engagement with the school district, teaching 21st century learning skills, and promoting professional development for teachers,” Phyllis J. Washington College of Education Interim Dean Adrea Lawrence said. “But the component that made the biggest difference in the success of the programs created under the grant was the powerful partnership that emerged between the university and the MCPS system.”

The Foundation's support will allow UM and MCPS to deepen their partnership to offer solutions at multiple stages of a child’s education. The MCPS mission to ensure that all students achieve their potential regardless of circumstance or ability is supported by the early intervention programs built into this initiative.

“Over the last six years, UM and MCPS have taken the lead on building a teaching and learning model that ensures that every child has the opportunity to succeed,” Foundation Executive Director Mike Halligan said. “The success of SHAPE P-20 and SHAPE 2.0 proved that a program model centered around teachers and students will impact generations of educators and students long into the future.”

The partnership has fostered the development of Spanish-English immersion programs, an International Baccalaureate K-12 pathway, STEAM-focused schools, blended learning programs, and numerous teacher training opportunities. The new grant will continue to push those efforts forward.

“The SHAPE grants have allowed us to seek avenues of engagement that take us out of our comfort zone,” Thane said, “and the new 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative is a way to greatly enhance professional development opportunities for our teachers and staff and positively impact the diversity of our course offerings, relevancy and vibrancy of public education. It’s giving us the opportunity to become recognized as such a leader that currently we see a demand regionally for seats in our schools and nationally for the chance to teach in our classrooms. Together we can increase the awareness of innovation in Montana’s public education system.”

For UM, the partnership aligns with the institution’s top priorities to emphasize student success and drive excellence and innovation in teaching, research and learning.

“The generosity and dedication of allies like the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation help propel our great university in its commitment to serving students and the state of Montana,” said UM President Seth Bodnar. “We’re thankful for their longstanding support and their partnership as we work with MCPS to shape the way we deliver education and transform lives.”

Through Campaign Montana — the university’s most ambitious fundraising campaign ever — and with support of partners like the Foundation, UM is putting student success at the center of all it does.   

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